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Paul Martin’s government is defeated in a never-ending election that began in November, and I lose my job as Minister of State for Infrastructure and Communities, while keeping my seat in the House of Commons. After 13 years in power, the Liberals are tossed out, and with us, our whole policy agenda, which was painfully arrived at after years of financial constraint.
The worst by far for me personally was the loss of the $5 billion early childhood development (ECD) program, which Paul Martin and Ken Dryden had brought in after the 2004 election. I felt I had lost 13 years of my life’s work, rather as if Leo Tolstoy had been writing War and Peace on a computer, got to the end, and failed to push the ‘save’ button. Why had I bothered?
It was also clear that what killed the ECD initiative was ideology, not ideas, or science, or practical or operational considerations, and that ideology was fuelled by mean-spiritedness and partisanship – the realization of this fact made me angry as well as disappointed.
My initial interest in the ECD story began, like many other contributors to the present special edition, as a friend of Fraser Mustard, who, like Bruce Springsteen, is often simply known as ‘The Boss’. The Boss has often said in my presence that I was one of his brighter students, which I accept both as a compliment and a firm and unambiguous statement about hierarchy.
It all began in 1987 when I became editor of the Financial Post. I was soon swept along by the excitement of the early days of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), Fraser’s greatest creation, and I started writing columns about the Institute’s programs in the Determinants of Health and Human Development, both of which firmly focused on the crucial importance of the early years. I was intellectually captured, nay, enthralled by the argument.
After my time at the Financial Post ended in tears, Fraser took me in as a political refugee and I was appointed Vice-President of CIFAR in 1992, mostly in charge of outreach. The two years at CIFAR between journalism and politics were the world’s most incredibly rich double sabbatical, an amazing recharging of my intellectual batteries and a refocusing of my life’s purpose.
As I began contemplating a move into politics, a great motivator was to see myself as a transmission belt between the ideas of the Institute, particularly on ECD, and the world of public policy and political action.
By August 1993, I had taken a leave from CIFAR, become the Liberal candidate for the Toronto riding of Don Valley West, and found myself in Ottawa one day working with Paul Martin, Eddie Goldenberg, Terrie O’Leary and Chaviva Hosek (now, appropriately, the President of CIFAR) on finalizing the text of the famous Red Book, officially titled Creating Opportunity: The Liberal Plan for Canada. I was given the task of writing the introduction and was pleased to be able to write: “... we wish to focus our efforts on leverage points. By concentrating some of our resources on early childhood, for example, we can achieve a significant multiplier effect in later savings in the health and social services sector as those children reach adulthood”.
Specifically, we promised that “in each year following a year of 3 percent economic growth, a Liberal government will create 50,000 new childcare spaces to a total of 150,000”.
The Liberals sweep into power with Jean Chrétien, and I with them. Immediate bad news: the Conservatives had left us holding a $40 billion annual deficit, which meant no new child care spaces any time soon.
But there was personal good news: the arrival of our son Ian in 1994 followed by the inevitable challenging reconciliation of theory and practice when it came to ECD and childrearing. Actually, having a child raised the emotional stakes in the battle for ECD.
Despite the fiscal challenges, there were good people and supporters in crucial roles in the government. Chaviva Hosek was director of policy in the Prime Minister’s Office. Peter Nicholson, long associated with CIFAR and Fraser, joined Paul Martin in Finance as a senior advisor. Senator Landon Pearson, another CIFAR associate, had become the Children’s Senator, and she and I co-chaired for many years the National Children’s Agenda caucus within the Liberal caucus, a group that met faithfully every Wednesday morning while Parliament sat.
But it was Paul Martin himself who became the crucial long-term ally for the promotion of ECD in Canada. Once again, Paul was a friend of Fraser Mustard, and Fraser was unrelenting in his proselytizing. With Peter Nicholson’s urging, Paul became a true believer, and his role is essential in understanding the 14-year ECD roller coaster ride under the Liberal government, which culminated in the national child care program of 2004.
As Finance Minister, Paul Martin became an unofficial education minister who understood the connection between ECD and life-long learning. During one postbudget tour, he visited Adventure Place, located in a school in North York, Ontario, and got the full treatment on ECD from two more of Fraser’s allies, Clara Will and the late Dr Dan Offord. On another occasion, at a summer Liberal caucus retreat in Chicoutimi, Quebec, I dragged Paul and other caucus members off to an early morning session in a Centre de la Petite Enfance.
All along, our ‘Kids Caucus’ stayed in touch with the key players in the larger ECD world – Martha Friendly, Laurel Rothman, the Campaign 2000 people, as well as provincial bureaucrats, politicians, business leaders such as banker Charlie Coffey, and civil society groups that shared our cause.
Although it would be hard to prove, I think all of these efforts contributed in the 1990s to a sea change in public attitudes because polls indicated ever greater levels of support for ECD. It was vital to have the hard scientific data on the advantages of ECD to overcome prejudice and ideology and make the rational case.
Ten years after the Red Book child care promise is made, Jane Stewart negotiates a $935 million child care deal over five years with her provincial counterparts. There was lots of wiggle room for the provinces, a point not lost on the advocates, but it was a start, and the deal came with the full support of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Finance Minister Paul Martin.
However, the big breakthrough came in 2004 when now Prime Minister Paul Martin announced a $5 billion five-year national child care program during the June election of that year.
Ken Dryden, the new Minister of Social Development, was tasked with signing individual agreements with the provinces and did so by November 2005, just before the government was defeated.
Of course, after coming to power in January 2006, the new Conservative government cancelled the child care program after its first year of operation – bad news, indeed, and certainly discouraging to all those who worked so hard and so long to make the program a reality.
Three-and-a-half years later, I take a more optimistic view. Ideas have power, and good ideas never die, especially when they had begun to be tested as they were under Paul Martin’s government. The knowledge of early success will continue to inspire – four of our five federal parties and their supporters endorse ECD, and even the fifth party, the Conservatives, has prominent members who recognize the value of public investment in ECD, members such as Senator Keon, whose efforts I am delighted to acknowledge and who has also contributed to the present volume.